On 24 January the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) released its annual statistics, documenting at least 6,495 human rights violations during 2017. State security forces perpetrated 61 percent of the violations, including 1,176 extrajudicial and arbitrary executions – a 146 percent increase as compared to 2016.
The report acknowledged that the dramatic increase in violations by the security forces during 2016 and 2017 was partly a result of a crackdown on protests in major cities as well as the outbreak of violent conflict in the Kasaï region. Since September 2016 security forces have shot and killed more than 100 civilians while suppressing peaceful demonstrations regarding presidential elections that have been postponed for more than a year.
In addition to UNJHRO documenting numerous human rights violations carried out by the army in the Kasaï region, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that state forces have provided extensive support to Bana Mura, a pro-government militia that has carried out ethnic targeting during attacks. UNJHRO has also documented the discovery of more than 80 mass graves in the Kasaï region.
According to UNJHRO, armed groups and militias were responsible for 904 summary executions during 2017, the majority of which were recorded in the east of the country. Inter-communal violence and militia attacks in eastern DRC have been increasing since late 2017, while recent military offensives by the army have triggered widespread civilian displacement. The UN Refugee Agency reported that violence in South Kivu province caused at least 7,000 people to flee into Burundi and 1,200 into Tanzania last week alone. Meanwhile, more than 15,000 people have crossed into Uganda since December 2017 as a result of violence in Ituri and North Kivu provinces.
The government of the DRC must investigate all violations of human rights and bring perpetrators to justice, regardless of affiliation. The government must also respect the right to freedom of assembly and end deadly violence against peaceful demonstrators who are demanding elections and an end to unconstitutional rule.
Less than a week after Taliban fighters attacked a hotel in Kabul, resulting in the deaths of 22 civilians, a further 103 people were killed on 27 January when the Taliban drove an ambulance full of explosives into a crowded street in the national capital. This was the largest terrorist attack in Kabul since more than 150 people were killed in a truck bomb attack on 31 May 2017.
The recent increase in indiscriminate attacks on civilians within Kabul appears to mark a shift in Taliban strategy. In addition to fighting to expand their territorial control in the countryside, the Taliban has escalated its attacks on civilians in urban areas in an effort to undermine the government’s ability to govern and provide basic security. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented more civilian deaths from suicide bombings and complex attacks by armed groups during the first half of 2017 than in any previous six-month period since the Mission began recording civilian casualties.
The UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, condemned the 27 January bombing as “nothing short of an atrocity.” These attacks by the Taliban deliberately target civilians, utilize indiscriminate weapons, and violate International Humanitarian Law. The use of an ambulance to perpetrate Saturday’s attack also violates medical neutrality and the principle of noninterference with medical services during armed conflict, which is a war crime.
The international community should continue to provide support to the Afghan government to help combat the Taliban and other armed groups. While countering violent extremism, the Afghan security forces and all international military forces operating in Afghanistan must prioritize the protection of civilians and strictly adhere to International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law.
After five years of civil war and multiple failed peace agreements, late last year the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) was launched in an attempt to end endemic conflict and recurring atrocities in South Sudan. The HLRF resulted in a new “Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access.” This agreement has been routinely violated since it was signed on 21 December.
According to the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), at least three signatories have violated the ceasefire over the past month. CTSAMM reported heavy fighting and troop movements by both the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) in Southern Liech, Unity and Western Equatoria states. According to CTSAMM, the SPLA-IO attacked the town of Koch, in Northern Liech State, within hours of the ceasefire agreement coming into effect on 24 December. During the subsequent fighting at least 15 people, including several children, were killed.
In response the Inter-governmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) Council of Ministers issued a Communiqué on 27 January saying that it will take all necessary measures, including targeted sanctions, against violators and spoilers of the December peace agreement and calling upon the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council to implement punitive measures.
The following day, at the AU Summit, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said that “the time has come” for sanctions against those who obstruct peace in South Sudan. Reinforcing these diplomatic efforts and calling for an end to arms flowing into South Sudan via Kenya and Uganda, on 29 January the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, also declared that, “the responsibility to prevent atrocities is regional and international.”
Ahead of the second round of the HLRF next week, the AU, IGAD and UN Security Council should finally impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions against all political leaders, senior military figures and militia leaders implicated in atrocities and violations of the 21 December agreement. All countries, but especially members of the AU and IGAD, should halt the sale or transport of arms to those who continue to inflict misery and conflict upon the South Sudanese people.